6 myths about the PC vs. Mac debate

The PC vs. Mac wars just need to die. They’re stupid and pointless. They accomplish absolutely nothing but just more back-and-forth shouting, and the same exact arguments come up every time, making the PC vs. Mac flamewar one giant cliche.

Here are six arguments that come up in every PC vs. Mac debate that are complete myth and have absolutely no merit.

“Macs can’t play games!”

Yup, they can actually. The Portal series runs great on a Mac and so does Civilization IV, Bioshock, and numerous other grade-A games thanks to Steam. Even on the low-end Macs that only have integrated graphics, these games coast along fairly well.

I will say, though, that PC has and will probably always have more titles available than the Mac, but the number of games available for Mac machines is growing and will always grow from this point on.

“PCs are slow, they always crash, and get viruses!”

I’m not sure what PC you’re using, but within the past five or so years that I’ve owned my PC, not once has it gotten a virus or crashed. I also never considered it “slow.” That’s mostly because I took care of my PC and knew how to use it. It’s just like a vehicle: If you know how to use it and take good care of it, it will perform admirably. However, if you never change the oil, expect only problems to arise.

Aside from regular maintenance (on a Mac too, not just PC), you should expect the occasional failure of hardware. It shouldn’t happen, but it just does. And it’ll happen with both PCs and Macs.

Whenever a Microsoft hater spells the company name with a “$” (Micro$oft)

So, I’m pretty sure you’re not aware that Apple is the most valuable company in the world and has more cash reserves than the Federal Government. Microsoft’s money-making ways don’t even come close to Apple’s.

Apple’s “stupid” one-button mice and “not-that-much-better” trackpads

I will admit that Apple’s one-button mouse from a few years ago (the Mighty Mouse) was pretty crappy. Like…really crappy, but they’ve come a long way since then with the Magic Mouse and glass trackpads thanks to the implementation of multitouch.

The trackpad on the MacBook is simply nothing like a standard PC trackpad. That sounds really subjective at first and most PC users will say, “It can’t be that much better than my HP’s trackpad.” However, it really is. MacBook trackpads are configurable to almost an excessive degree thanks to multitouch and utilities like BetterTouchTool. I can click, right-click, middle-click, scroll, two, three, or four-finger swipe in four different directions, pinch-zoom, expand, rotate, two-finger tap, three-finger tap, and four-finger tap. That’s just the tip of iceberg, really. There are a ton of other gestures that I can do, all with a flat surface and one single button.

“OS X just simply runs better than Windows”

This sort of goes back to the second myth, but the latest OS X (10.7) does not run better than the latest Windows (7) and vice versa. This argument did have some merit a few years ago when Windows actually wasn’t that great, but today both OSes perform fairly equally. They both have their strong advantages that make each unique, but they also have their own tiny, albeit annoying quirks that make you want to pull your hair out.

“Macs are way overpriced!”

I saved this one for last because it’s probably the most-known and most-used argument of all. A lot of Apple haters like to play the overpriced card and say they could get a PC with the same specs for way less. While it is possible to find a PC that’s cheaper on average, that doesn’t mean Macs are overpriced by any means.

However, the price gap between PCs and Macs is shrinking, especially with the direction that the industry is going with Ultrabooks and the MacBook Air (in fact, there’s hardly a price difference in that category). Eventually, the overpriced argument will be obsolete. I think that’s because PC manufacturers are now starting to add their own “Apple tax” to their new Ultrabooks because “if Apple can sell their thin-and-light laptop for that much, why can’t we?”

Conclusion

When it comes down to it, it’s all about preference. Some people like  PCs because they like Windows and they’re cheaper overall, and others like Macs because they’re aesthetically pleasing and come with a richer user experience you won’t find elsewhere. They both have their advantages and disadvantages, which makes them unique in their own ways. I’m both a PC and Mac guy because I couldn’t tell you straight up which one is better. I like both very much and I think they each have great things going for them.

Make your Mac More Like Windows 7 with HyperDock

I’m a Mac, but I used to be a PC.

(Just in case you haven’t seen them, I am referring to the popular series of TV adverts comparing the Apple and Microsoft ways of doing things.)

This is an app review, so it’s not the place for a Mac vs. Windows debate. For the sake of context however, I should say that after switching and enduring a sharp learning curve, I personally came to appreciate and prefer the Mac OS X way of doing things.

Little niggles remained, however. In the course of my working day, I often have many documents open at one time. Windows 7 introduced a great preview feature that shows all of the files open in an application when you hover the mouse over its taskbar icon. Earlier versions of Windows had opened each file in a separate instance of the application, so even without the Windows 7 preview, it was still easy to quickly switch between several different Word documents.

On my Mac, I became frustrated with having to go to the “Window” menu or cycle through windows in an application to quickly move between open documents. I also missed Window 7’s desktop snapping features, particularly the ability to instantly make one window take up exactly half of the screen.

Enter HyperDock, an app that appears to have been specifically designed to add these features to Mac OS X.

Hyperdock for OS X
Hyperdock for OS X

On the evening that I first investigated HyperDock, I was put off by the price. £6.99 ($11 USD) seemed like an awful lot to pay for some OS tweaks, despite a host of 5-star App Store reviews. I put it to the back of my mind. By lunchtime the following day, I realised that I had needed to use the cumbersome way to switch between documents at least ten times. I swallowed the cost and downloaded the app.

Though it’s probably a little histrionic to say that HyperDock has changed my life, it has certainly made it less frustrating. Windows 7’s window preview was a great feature from Microsoft. HyperDock basically provides OS X with the same, but better. The app lets you change the preview size, the animation, the behavior – and even adds some cool extra features such as advanced previews for iTunes and iCal.

HyperDock gives me the window snapping features too. I can now drag a window off to the side to make it take up half the screen – perfect for comparing documents, or using one to refer too while writing. It’s the perfect example of a feature you didn’t know you needed until you had it – and after Windows 7, I was missing it.

To come down firmly on one side of the Windows vs. OS X debate is somewhat missing the point. There are always going to be things that one OS does better than the other. Utilities like HyperDock give you the best of both worlds, and what I like best about this app is that it works seamlessly, without the flaky unpredictability that I associate with Windows UI enhancements that I have tried in the past. It’s turned out to be worth every penny.

Bring Python to Your .NET Development with IronPython

Python is a high-level programming language that has gained popularity in recent years for its emphasis on clear code that is easy to read, combined with surprising power and flexibility. Because Python is free and open-source, it has become a widely used scripting language primarily for web-based applications…but did you know that a little help from the .NET framework can bring your Python apps to the desktop, complete with a graphical user interface? IronPython is a handy tool that will allow you to enjoy the perks of .NET development with your favorite language, Python.

IronPython is a version of Python that is tightly integrated with .NET, originally developed and maintained by a team of Microsoft engineers but recently released to the open-source community. IronPython integrates with Microsoft Visual Studio and allows you to combine traditional Python code with .NET technologies, including Windows Forms and WPF for UI design. The result is a Python-coded application that looks and behaves no differently than any other Windows program, which is a big improvement over the command-line programs typical of the language.

'Hello World' with IronPython

But how exactly does IronPython fit into the .NET world? The diagram below shows the basic functionality where the Python code makes calls to both the .NET framework classes as well as Python libraries. The Python code is then compiled by the IronPython Engine and converted to assembly code that can be executed by the .NET runtime.

IronPython isn’t just for the desktop and can be used to develop web applications that integrate with Silverlight, a Microsoft framework similar to Adobe Flash. If you’re worried about pigeon-holing yourself into Windows with .NET, fear not, IronPython is supported by Mono, an open-source and cross-platform alternative to .NET. Likewise, if you don’t have the money to throw down on a license for Visual Studio, IronPython Studio is a free IDE that runs from the Visual Studio Shell.

So, if you’re a Python developer and want to make user-friendly apps that can take advantage of all that .NET has to offer, bust out of your command-line world give IronPython a spin.

BitTorrent takes on Dropbox with new file-sharing service

It seems that everyone is planning an Operation Overthrow against popular file synching service Dropbox. Earlier this week, it was Insync. This time, the newest member to join the movement is BitTorrent, Inc. with their new desktop app simply dubbed Share. The service allows you to transfer any type of files to anyone with no size limit to weigh you down.

The process is easy and straightforward. After installing and firing up the application, add files by dragging-and-dropping or by browsing for them. Then, enter in your email address, as well as the recipient’s email address (you can have more than one recipient). You can also connect to Facebook and add your friends that way.

After you send the file, the recipient will receive an email letting them know about the file(s) and how to get the Share app (if they don’t already have it).

Your account will automatically be created after you send your first file share and the next window is a list of all the files that you’re sharing and information on who its shared with, etc. Users don’t have to be online at the same time to send and receive files, since they’re cached in the cloud and once the files have sufficiently been shared by peers, they’re taken off the cloud to make room for future files transfers.

Share is clearly still in its early alpha stages, but it will eventually be integrated into the popular BitTorrent client uTorrent, adding even more features to the lightweight program. Currently, Share is only available on Windows, but will be available on Macs via uTorrent in the future.

A free, unlimited file-sharing service this easy simply cannot go ignored. It’s a fantastic alternative to anyone who doesn’t want to get their hands dirty with true BitTorrent and makes sharing larger files a breeze.

How to make your Windows tablet look like Windows Phone 7

I recently noticed that when I told people I bought an ASUS EP121 Eee Slate tablet PC with Windows 7, they usually asked me “What do you do for easy access to nifty apps and news and stuff?” And sadly, it was a question I could not easily answer without adding sarcasm or criticism (a very tough thing to do, mind you).

In all fairness, I did agree that my overpowered, $1,200 multi-touch tablet PC was lacking a nice home-screen user interface like the iOS or Android 3.0. So like all the other problems I had faced in my life, I turned to the internet for help.

Immediately, the internet told me to wait for Windows 8 (which Techerator has been covering already). But unfortunately, I have never been one for waiting for solutions to my life’s problems and, more importantly, I have stopped purchasing operating systems when they are in their product infancy (lesson learned: Windows Millennium Edition). But thankfully, a few short Google searches later I found that the folks at How-to Geek had located a better solution than just waiting for a new OS: use Rainmeter and Omnimo UI to make your Windows 7 desktop look like a Windows Phone 7.

So that is exactly what I did.

Rainmeter and Omnimo

Before
After

Rainmeter is a free program that allows for custom skins to be added to one’s computer desktop for added functionality. All the skins are user-created, and can range from simple battery meters to to-do lists and RSS feeds. If you do enough searching, you’ll find a skin to load into Rainmeter that fits your liking. For my tablet, I followed How-to Geek’s lead and chose Omnimo UI, a custom skin that takes its influence from the Windows Phone 7 OS design and its sleek Segoe UI font. Installation of both Rainmeter and Omnimo UI are accurately detailed in the How-to Geek article, so I will not elaborate too much.

Once installed, Omnimo walks you through the skin selection process and gives you three options: two skins with nifty Windows Phone 7-esque panels and clear text, and the third skin being a blank slate to start from.

If one chooses the pre-built skins, it is important to note that thanks to Omnimo’s features, they are not set in stone. Rather, every single panel and text item can be tweaked, moved, and deleted to suit one’s preferences. Editing a panel can be done by finding the wrench icon located nearby and the deleting can be done by right clicking anywhere on it and going to the “unload skin” option.

So...many....OPTIONS

The right click menu is also where all the other tweaking happens. Panels can be added and subtracted, and whole homescreen skins can be backed up and stored for future reference. The configuration options are extensive and comprehensive, with the only things being excluded are adding one’s personal preferences to the panels.

If one feels ambitious enough to start from scratch, they can use the “WP7” menus to choose panels to add and place them on the screen to their liking. This one above was created in one evening to suit my “Quick demand for what’s happening around the world while eating breakfast” mood.

I will say this, though, creating a custom home-screen is not as easy as it looks due to the fact that some of the panels and editing menus are tiny and tweaking them to exactly your liking can become increasingly frustrating and tedious.

Two tips when dealing with custom panel movements:

  1. Use the tablet pen to move the panels around and edit them (that makes a huge difference).
  2. Lock the panels into place once they are in a suitable location by right clicking on the panel, going to “Manage Skin,” and deselecting “Draggable” in the lower right. Adding shortcuts can also become extensive as the editing menu will not find the icon for you once you add the path of the executable.

So take that, tablet PC objectors. Thanks to Rainmeter and skins like Omnimo, one can have the luxury of an expensive, high-powered tablet with Windows 7 and a clean user interface at the same time. No sarcasm intended.

Use Android Apps in Windows With BlueStacks

A little company called BlueStacks is making waves after releasing an Android app player for Windows. Android developers are excited about the prospect of bring their applications to the desktop, and Android users are probably excited to have yet another venue for playing Angry Birds. The excitement surrounding BlueStacks’ software has led AMD and Citrix to invest $6.4 million in the small company.

The application is still in its alpha phase, but I had to give it a try. What I found was an unobtrusive and stable application that runs fine on my notebook and would be an absolute must-have for a Windows tablet PC. Upon installation, a small BlueStacks icon appears in the top right of the screen, and clicking (or tapping) it brings up a list of several pre-installed apps along with the option to obtain more from the BlueStacks App Channels webpage. This site provides an easy way to install more Android apps from your browser.

Opening an Android application brings BlueStacks to fullscreen mode with a menu along the bottom of the screen. This touch-enabled menu allows you to bring up application menus, the ability to rotate an app for machines not equipped with an accelerometer, and a quick way to switch between applications. Not bad at all! In fact, after about an hour of use I didn’t have any unexpected problems, which is impressive for early-stage software. The experience is very much in line with what you expect from your Android apps.

The possibilities here are exciting because suddenly Android developers have access to a massive number of users not using Android-powered phones and tablets. The types of applications that will be present in the Android app store are bound to change as developers see the opportunity to create production-grade software, rather than the fun-but-frivolous gadgets that dominate the market. Expect big things from BlueStacks, perhaps even a Windows run-time that will allow Android apps to be installed natively on your desktop. I imagine it’s just a matter of time before the BlueStacks app player is available for Mac and Linux. Android apps for all!

Windows 8 Gets A Brand New Task Manager

Back before we all knew better, the Windows task manager was accepted as the ugly eyesore that it currently is and we were happy to put it far out of our minds until the next time we had the misfortune to need it. To the experienced user, the task manager is a necessary evil, complicated, but not unusable. To a novice, however, the experience can be altogether alienating and is to be avoided at all costs.

Thankfully, following with their new-found love of simplicity, Windows has decided to rebuild the task management system, bringing an interface that the average user can actually understand. Rather than complicated file names, they added the actual names of programs in the default view. But with the changes, they haven’t forgotten their loyal users either. More detailed information is available at the press of a button to those that prefer it.

More often than not, however, the cause of your frozen machine lies in the hand of a pesky application that has either stopped responding or decided to eat up all of your precious resources in a petty attempt at a power grab. In this case, you’ll be completely satisfied with the default application view and more than able to solve your problem.

Clicking “More Details” will give you a list of processes that once had awful character strings that made absolutely no sense, but now have names that actually let you know what they do. More than that, Microsoft has grouped similar processes together in order to make the manager even more intuitive. And if you are still clueless, even with the new names, a simple click will take you to a web search of any process in the list.

Finally, there is the addition of heat maps. More proof that Microsoft has finally shifted some of their focus to good design. Heat maps allow you to visually identify which programs or processes are currently using the most resources (the problem ones will grow the brightest).

We’re obviously thrilled that Microsoft has finally let real design leak into Windows 8, but what do you think? Are they going far enough? What would you like to see change?

Windows 8: Better Built From Scratch?

Windows 8 is rapidly taking shape, and on the surface it looks fantastic. On the surface. Only on the surface. Under the hood things are a little messier, because at its heart Windows 8 is still Windows, the same Windows that we’ve known, and loved and hated in equal measure, since it debuted under Bill Gates leadership in 1985.

The question that really has to be asked is whether Microsoft would have been better building Windows 8 from scratch? Would starting again and building from the ground up have been a better strategy than effectively plugging the holes?

First, let’s look at Windows 8 in more detail, and thanks to Microsoft’s insatiable need to share we know a lot about Windows 8 already, even though it’s at least a year away from being unleashed on the public. Steven Sinofsky, President of the Windows Division at Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, is keeping us in the loop with the Building Windows 8 blog.

Windows 8 is a two-headed beast. Its user interface (called Metro) will be the default for all users regardless of their machine of choice, is big, bold, and colorful. Under the hood, doing all the hard work, is Windows 7 with bells on. There have been a few small changes made here and there, with ribbons being integrated left, right, and center, but it’s still the same old Windows.

The trouble is that the shiny new UI is gaining all the attention and taking all the plaudits. Rightly so, I guess, because it is regarded as a triumph, both visually and in terms of usability. But it was conceived with tablets in mind, being finger-friendly and reminiscent of Windows Phone 7 mobile OS. At this point in time most people don’t own tablets, and those that do own Apple iPads. So it’s a gamble.

The Windows desktop PC users know all too well exists on Windows 8 as an app, given equal billing as Angry Birds and Facebook. But it’s still there, in the background, with all its inherent security flaws and decades-old issues. Which seems a little bizarre. It’s as though Microsoft wants to forge its way into the future, competing with Apple and Google as it does so, but feels the need to hold on to the past, its past, a past that many would say needs to be left well behind if the company is to remain as the giant it currently is.

I can’t help feeling that Microsoft is trying to please all of the people all of the time, which is, as we know, impossible. There is a very real risk that Windows 8 will sit between the two camps – the classic and the modern – and please nobody. It may have been a more worthy strategy for Microsoft to face the future head on and build Windows 8 completely from scratch. Sure, it may have meant an extra year or two’s wait, but Windows 7 is serving most people’s needs adequately at this stage. And with firms upgrading from XP and Vista en masse, a delay wouldn’t have been too detrimental to Microsoft’s revenues.

Perhaps a better question to ask would be whether Microsoft should build Windows 9, or whatever its next, next operating system is called. Because that has to deliver on all fronts in the way Windows 7 managed to. It is notoriously difficult trying to cater to everyone at the same time, and that could eventually prove to be Microsoft’s downfall.

Image Credit: magn3tik

Nyan Cat brings childish wonderment to Windows progress bars

If this is your first time on the internet, here’s what you have missed: Nyan Cat is an insanely popular internet meme where an adorable half-Pop-Tart cat runs through the night sky emitting an 8-bit rainbow in its wake. Almost as memorable as the animation is the accompanying soundtrack, which I’ll give you an opportunity to listen to below.

If the video isn’t enough for you (did I mention there’s a 10-hour version?), Windows users can now add Nyan Cat to their progress bars. I previously wrote how progress bars use optical illusions to appear faster, so why not make them appear faster and deliciously entertaining?

To get Nyan Cat in your progress bars, download the Nyan Cat .zip file and extract the files to your computer. Make sure to extract all of the files (not just the .exe) – they’re all needed to make this magic happen. Then all you have to do is open NyanCatProgressBar.exe and you’re set, no installation necessary!

The developer notes that Nyan Cat works best with Windows 7; Windows XP users might experience animation problems.

To use Nyan Cat Progress Bar, simply do anything in Windows that requires the use of a standard progress bar. In my case, I copied a 4 GB folder full of video files, which gave me a solid minute of Nyan goodness.

Nyan Cat Progress Bar includes a surprisingly useful amount of settings which you can access by right clicking the kitty icon in your system tray. Nyan Cat plays music by default, but you can set it to automatically mute if you’re playing music in iTunes or Winamp. In the settings window, you’ll also see a timer of how long Nyan Cat has danced across your screen, and you can disable the custom progress bars in specific applications in the Ignore List tab.

Nyan Cat Progress Bar isn’t perfect – it works by literally covering up the standard progress bar with our feline friend. If you drag a progress bar around your screen quickly, you’ll notice that Nyan Cat has a hard time keeping up. But hey, this is the price you pay to be unique!

If you like Nyan Cat Progress Bar, check out the developer’s other application Instant Elevator Music. It’s the same idea as Nyan Cat Progress Bar, but instead plays relaxing elevator music whenever you’re waiting on Windows to finish its business.

How to Manage Stored User Names and Passwords in Windows Credential Manager

A convenient feature of any operating system or software application is its ability to save login credentials so you don’t have to repeatedly enter the same user name and password. Although it may be convenient, there are some potential security concerns with saving login information on your computer, especially if it is shared with others.

Windows manages a user’s login credentials through the Credential Manager. The Credential Manager in Windows stores login information for any servers, network locations, mapped drives, websites, and various other software that you may access during the day.  Follow these steps to access the Credential Manager and find out what user names and passwords Windows is currently storing for you.

Start the Credential Manager by opening the Control Panel and navigating to Control Panel > All Control Panel Items > Credential Manager.

Here you can see the locations that Windows had stored the login information for a couple of network shares I have connected to.

Expanding each entry shows more information about it.

You can edit an entry to change the user name or password.

Or alternatively, you can delete saved login information.

The Credential Manager also allows you to backup and restore your saved credentials.  Simply click the Back up Vault button to save your login information to a .crd file.  This same file can be used to restore your saved credentials in the event of a problem.

Another way to access the Credential Manager is through the command line.  This works with both Windows XP and Windows 7.

Start by opening  a command prompt.  Type the following into the command prompt window and press Enter.

rundll32.exe keymgr.dll, KRShowKeyMgr

The Stored User Names and Passwords window will open, allowing you to perform the same functions as the Credential Manager outlined in the above steps.